For a while now, I’ve been looking forward to what is now day three of a working vacation.  While being a house parent at a string quartet summer camp where my son is attending, I’m spending my days doing what I call “thought work” – reading books and writing on this blog.

My main tools are a stack of books (which are starting to get a funny wavy look to them from the Cape Cod humidity), a pencil, and a clear ruler.  As the books are primarily related to the work we do (social media, search, etc), I like to go through them seeking out those nuggets of knowledge.

For me, these books have 4 types of information:

  1. The Gems – totally new information for me
  2. Stuff I know, but good reinforcement – helps me communicate to others (like those social media evangelists I wrote about)
  3. Stuff I know, but is so fundamental that it isn’t helpful
  4. Stuff I disagree with

The first book I’ve pulled from the stack is ‘Audience, Relevance, and Search, Targeting Web Audiences with Relevant Content’, by James Mathewson, Frank Donatone, and Cynthia Fishel.  I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of the latter when she was in the process of leaving IBM, but before she went to Digitas.  Not just another self-proclaimed social media guru, Cynthia comes to the subject with a strong grounding in information architecture and website usability.

The very title of the book really draws me.  I’m a big believer in the idea of relevance.  In fact, I think the business of search marketing, to a degree, is about managing the perception of relevance.

The authors’ first main premise is that web writing differs from print writing as the relationship of reader to writer is just different. On the web, readers control the flow – and as search is so important in how users often get to content, writing for the search engines comes first.

Also, each page should have ‘purpose’.  “If you tune your pages to the activities your users hope to accomplish when they arrive on your pages, you have a much better chance of getting them to engage with your content.”

I absolutely loved the chapter about ‘media determinism’ (how media can affect what you can and can’t think about) and “Spaces between words”.  In this section, the book takes on a Malcolm Gladwellesque storytelling of which I’m fond.

That  SERP is good for credibility, and quality backlinks are good for credibility is something that is sure to make it into my consultative sales kit.

While there is some great discussion of the difference of web/print writing, I would have loved to see some actual examples. When the authors wrote, “If this were a web text, we could present the information in a more modular way, giving you all kinds of contextual cues about what you might skip, and about what everyone who reads this text needs”, I was thinking, “example please!”.

Other great underlined passages:

A couple of the places where I differ with the authors

The authors of Audience, Relevance, and Search advocate for the removal of stale content.  I prefer to re-contextualize stale content – even stating on top, “hey, this is stale content” is better to me that seeing it gone.  There are a lot of old great articles that IBM did on Rational that are all but impossible to find – and I wish I could!

I also find myself arguing with the notion that keyword relationships should drive the organization of content.  Perhaps it quibbling, but I’m still a fan of “users’ needs”.

Recommend Audience, Relevance, and Search?

Audience, Relevance, and SearchYes.  This is the type of deep thinking we need on the subject.  A lot of the practical advice in this, and any book on search marketing, is going to be out of date within 6 months of publishing. But the level of dialogue is where it needs to be.  There is one particular person in my shop that I’m going to plead with to read this.

Read the book? Share your thoughts here.